Is being called a nerd a good thing? Once it wasn't - now it is. I find how definitions evolve interesting.

Who’s a nerd now: ever wonder how definitions evolve?

Is being a nerd a good thing? Once upon a time you wouldn’t want that label, but I think that has changed. It’s interesting to watch how definitions evolve.

A nerd used to be the kid at school who was socially awkward, shy, overly studious. There was even a period when it was spelled knurd – which is drunk backwards – get it – those who did homework instead of partying?

That was then. Now a nerd is seen as being smart and cool – nerds can thaw your frozen iPhone, find files you inadvertently erased from your computer and install your internet-of-things light fixture.

There was that pithy phrase from political commentator Charles Sykes (sometimes attributed to Bill Gates): “Be nice to nerds – chances are you’ll end up working for one.”

Apparently the word nerd first appeared in Dr Seuss’ book If I Ran the Zoo, which came out in 1950. This nerd was a dishevelled, frowning, disapproving fellow – not one of the friendly animals the narrator was collecting for the new zoo.

the original nerd - a great example of how definitions evolve

The original nerd

The word took hold then, complete with its negative overtones, and stayed that way for decades.

There’s a theory I like on how it got to mean a studious, serious person from Jim Burrows’ blog devoted to this subject. In the 1950s Northern Electric Research and Development Laboratories in Ottawa gave its technicians pocket protectors with the company acronym printed on them. N.E. R & D. It’s almost too perfect to believe!

Then things changed. In the last 10 to 15 years all things technical have made their way into our daily lives – computers, smartphones, gadgets galore. In general things are pretty complicated.

Having the skills to comprehend, then maintain and repair these items was now valuable. Every business – and every household in fact – now needs a nerd. Do you have one?

Nerds come in different varieties as well – computers nerds to help you with the above, science nerds like we see on The Big Bang Theory, word nerds, music nerds.

The lovely Hermione from the Harry Potter series was a nerd – and who didn’t love her?

Even the Oxford English Dictionary has come around and now included the a second definition of “a single-minded expert in a particular technical field.”

Nerds have evolved – it’s official!

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